For Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May), us and social enterprise Mayfield Nurseries have launched a Get Back to Nature campaign to encourage local people to do things like growing food or flowers, exercising outdoors or bringing the outside in with houseplants.
As part of the week-long campaign, we are also asking local people to share their favourite nature spots and will be offering tips to those who may feel anxious about going outside, and sharing the positive effects nature can bring to mental health and wellbeing.
Why is going for a walk in the park, a jog on the beach, or a ride along the river good for mental health? Dr Matthew White, University of Exeter medical school research psychologist explains: “First there is considerable evidence that physical activity in general can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, but this isn’t the only reason. Even sitting on a bench looking at the sunset or listening to bird song also has beneficial effects.
“As many people will know, a significant aspect of mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, is the tendency to worry and overthink things, getting caught in a spiral of negative thoughts about the world or oneself. With the uncertainty that has been around Covid 19, this is perfectly understandable, but while some consideration is helpful, too much can undermine our mental health.
“Nature works, at least in part, by cutting through those negative thoughts, encouraging people to focus instead on the natural world; repetitive pattern of waves, the play of squirrels, or the coconut smell of warm gorse flowers. Nature reminds us there is something much bigger than ourselves, with natural cycles of growth and decay.”
Matt encourages people to be mindful of their environment and not to feel pressurised to get outside, if they don’t feel ready: “A key feature though is that you have to be mindful of your environment, it’s no use sitting in the garden or in the park simply worrying about other things, the key is to allow your mind to wander to the sights and sounds and smells around you, and to re-establish that ‘connectedness’ many of us seem to feel towards the natural world intuitively.
“One thing to remember is that none of us like to feel pressured into doing things we don’t want to, and the same is true of spending time in nature. Research suggests that if people feel pressured by well-meaning friends and family to get out in nature, it can undermine the experience for them, as they become worried about whether they are meeting (or failing to meet) their loved one’s expectations.
“The take home message if you are currently coping with something like anxiety or depression – is to be kind to yourself, if spending time focusing on the natural world helps you take your mind off things – do it. But take each day as it comes and don’t put any additional pressure on yourself.”
For people feeling anxious about going outdoors, Dan Angus, head of social enterprise at Mayfield Nurseries, offers the following advice to connect to nature more easily:
Mayfield Nurseries offers a range of Wellbeing programmes, for further information visit www.mayfieldnurseries.org.uk
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